5 Reasons Your Yoga Teacher Won’t Shut Up About Your Pelvic Floor!

kegel-cartoon
illustration from: womenshealthfoundation.org
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles which create a hammock of sorts connecting to each hip bone, sacrum and coccyx (tail bone).  It serves to support our internal organs and plays a role in the function or dysfunction of our posture, continence, sexual function, fertility and much more.
  1. Improve Your Posture
    Pelvic floor muscles help to stabilize our hips, keeping our pelvis, sacrum and low back in proper alignment.  Learning to both engage and release this important muscle structure as part of a whole body approach can help correct improper alignments and relieve pain.
  2. Reduce Risk of Incontinence or Prolapse
    Many of us have experienced temporary incontinence when we have coughed, sneezed or laughed too hard.  If you have had a baby, you are familiar with an often shocking, although usually temporary loss of pelvic floor control and the resulting incontinence.  Strengthening pelvic floor muscles is often recommended to help prevent or treat incontinence.
    Prolapse, or the dropping of pelvic organs can occur in some women often due to weakened pelvic floor muscles.  While genetic factors can explain some cases, others factors including lack of muscle strength also contribute.
    Should we strengthen or release the pelvic floor?  Kegel exercises are often recommended to strengthen the pelvic muscles can help protect against incontinence and prolapse.  It is worth noting however, having ‘weakness’ in your pelvic muscles can also be the result of too much clenching and tightness.  Learning to lengthen and release these muscles is equally important.
  3. Ground Your Yoga and Meditation Practices
    Practicing Mula Bandha or root lock, the upward lift of the pelvic muscles, when engaged in our yoga practice has the benefit of stabilizing the pelvis and giving us a sense of grounding. Explore Mula Bandha throughout your asana and meditation practices.
  4. Improve Your Sex Life
    Both strengthening and learning to control the pelvic floor has been shown to improve sensation and enjoyment of sexual intercourse for both men and women. In addition, research shows pelvic strengthening can aid in the treatment of ED in men.
  5. Aid Relaxation and Stress Reduction
    When we think of our pelvic floor, we often think about the lack of engagement or strength, however we often unconsciously over-engage and tense our pelvic floor muscles.  This can lead to tension and stress throughout the body and mind, poor posture and even painful intercourse.  In yoga it is believed we hold our stress, tension, emotions, fear and anxiety in the pelvic region or ‘root’ of our body.   Developing an awareness of our pelvic floor muscles through yoga, meditation and exercise can have wonderful benefits in terms of our ability to relax both physically and mentally.

Open Your Legs and Hips With This Mini Flow To Go. . .

Legs & Hip Opening Sequence
Anjaneyasana, Ardha Hanumanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana, & Parsvottanasana

This week, my pal Ellie Bernstein and I are hosting a little Instagram challenge #GetYourHanumanOn as we prepare to travel to Boulder for my favorite yoga festival, Hanuman Festival!   Hanumanasana, or squared hip splits is a big posture that can be very challenging!  This asana necessarily requires patient opening of the hips, hamstrings as well as the quadriceps.  It encourages us to cultivate a burning desire to work towards a long-term goal of a pose that may never show up in our bodies.  It demands that we check our ego at the door, so we can avoid pushing too far, too fast.   Working towards Hanumanasana just might help us open the back line of fascia that often tightens causing problems up the back chain of our bodies.  It could help open our hip flexors that tighten due to our desk jobs and sedetary lifestyles.  Finally, it teaches us that if we have faith in the work, reaching the asana will simply be icing on the cake.

The above sequence can be done anywhere, anytime.  Once in Parsvottanasana, you can step back into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) or forward into Uttanasana (forward fold).  It can even be added onto your Sun Salutations to make a mini flow!

Have Faith.                        Do The Work.                      Keep Practicing.

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Seven Degrees of My Quads. . . How My Quads Make My Neck Hurt.

 

fit009_2_lr11_1
Photo credit: nationalvetcontent.edu.au

 

To illustrate how our bodies are kinetic chains and that everything is truly connected, let’s examine my imbalances. . . in my body (not my mind – that could take years!). I have over developed upper traps, weak or longer lower traps, strong, tight shoulders and tight back extensors or QL muscles (those muscles on either side of your spine that when tight are NO HELP AT ALL IN backbends). I have a curve in my upper back (kyphosis) and a large c-curve in my lower back (lordosis). From the side, I basically look like an “S”, which is convenient only for charades! I would say my hamstrings are normal. I like to stretch them. My hip flexors (which include the psoas) are tight and my glutes are weak (we refer to it as pancake butt in my family). This all makes postures like boat pose and wheel painfully hard!

If we examine these issues, we can start to see how it moves from the bottom creating a chain reaction.  Therefore, the pain in my neck and shoulders can have everything to do with my tight quadriceps.

 

  1. My quads and hip flexors are tight, which contribute to tilting my pelvis forward.
  2. The opposing weaker muscles, the hamstrings and glutes respectively, allow this anterior tilt to occur.
  3. As a result of the anterior or forward tilt of my pelvic bowl, my low back moves into lordosis (c-curve).
  4. The lordosis then shortens and tightens my QL muscles/back extensors.
  5. The lordosis in my lower back compresses vertebrae and then causes the opposing curve in the upper spine, kyphosis (hunch back).
  6. My shoulders roll forward and push my head forward causing the upper traps to shorten and tighten – this also lengthens and weakens my lower traps (the opposing muscles that help draw my shoulders down)
  7. The forward movement of my head then pulls on my neck muscles creating tightness and tension in my neck and shoulders and putting extra force on my spine.

 

To find out more about your postural alignment and identify your patterns,  see four common types here. . .

https://nationalvetcontent.edu.au/alfresco/d/d/workspace/SpacesStore/efcaa5b0-1c5b-40f7-bd55-64a59158f7cf/805/fit_tb/fit009_2_lr11/fit009_2_lr11_1.htm

Chain, Chain, Chain. . . Everything Is Connected!

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The old adage that everything is connected is often overlooked in our own bodies. When something hurts in our back for instance, we don’t often think about our thigh or our toe. Our bodies are kinetic chains of bones, fascia, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When we feel discomfort, tightness or pain, we have a habit of only focusing on the area of sensation, which has grabbed our attention.

 

As a teacher of yoga, I believe in striving for equanimity in our breath, in our minds as well as our bodies. I often ask my students to pay attention to the sensations in their bodies, the quality of their breath and the quality of their mood or thoughts.  It is important to “check in” mentally and physically because we can often gather all the information we need to help our bodies achieve better balance. So it is especially important to notice which poses we resist in our bodies and minds, because that is where our “work” is if we choose to listen.

 

Muscles come in opposing pairs, for example, the hamstrings and quadriceps. When the quadriceps contract or shorten, the hamstring lengthens. Much of the time, when we are actively working our legs in a yoga class, we are feeling this very distinctly.

 

It may be more challenging however, to feel the more subtle sensations of when our muscles are doing the job intended for other muscles.  For example, if we have tight quadriceps, we may in turn have weak hamstrings.  This can cause our quads to over-recruit and even tilt the pelvis anteriorly.  If the glutes and the hamstring are not working to their ideal capacity, we can keep reinforcing the imbalance.  Another common example is an underutilized or weak psoas muscle.  This may contribute to the overuse of the low back extensors such as the quadratus lumborum or QL’s causing lordosis or tightness in the low back.  It is our task to unlock the puzzles that our bodies become due to our physical activity, inactivity or both. Understanding which muscles are weaker, which are stronger and where our bodies are out of balance is a very powerful tool in working toward better balance.

 

Get started:

Make a list or body map of aches and pains, tight or weak muscles and previous injuries. Note which postures or activities give you trouble.  This may help you see patterns and identify a plan of action for balancing out your body.

 

For an example of how these kinetic chain imbalances may show up in a body, check out my next scheduled blog. . .

http://namawhatyogablog.com/2014/11/23/seven-degrees-…e-my-neck-hurt/